Almost as soon as it opened up, the Maple Ridge temporary homeless shelter will begin to close down.
With Christmas over, staff at the shelter at 22239 Lougheed Highway will start looking to find permanent homes for the 40 people who are now staying at the shelter, following its Oct. 1 opening.
“That truly becomes a very targeted focus over the last little while,” said Sean Spear, with Rain City Housing, the agency that’s operating the shelter until it closes on March 31.
Spear made the comments in December as people were dropping off Christmas gifts to the shelter.
But with a low vacancy rate, finding homes for anyone is a challenge, let alone someone who’s dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues.
With B.C. Housing funding the shelter, the City of Maple Ridge was able to offer accommodation to residents of the Cliff Avenue homeless camp that sprung up last spring next to the Salvation Army’s Caring Place.
That allowed the camp to be disbanded voluntarily, removing a sore point in the community that had festered for six months.
Mayor Nicole Read has made housing and homelessness her priority during her first year as mayor.
“This is something we need to stare down. It’s happening in every community. This significantly addicted, street-entrenched population, it requires steady work and encouragement,” she said in December.
But when the temporary shelter closes this spring, there will be no full-time shelter to welcome those who are still addicted, or who are ill or haven’t been able to find a place to live.
What exactly will replace the temporary shelter remains undecided.
The topic hasn’t yet been considered by council, says Coun. Corisa Bell.
Any plans for another shelter, she added, should have started last fall, as the opening of the temporary shelter was announced.
The public also needs to be involved.
“We definitely need to have a discussion in order to have a plan going forward for the community.”
Bell said Maple Ridge has to decide if it wants to become known as a shelter city.
“It’s part of the process that when you make services available, it becomes a regional service.”
With the 40-bed temporary shelter still at capacity and the Salvation Army saying it’s housed 100 people, “all those individuals cannot possibly be from Maple Ridge.”
“We just need to have a discussion if that’s what our city wants to be known for,” Bell said.
She wants to see the statistics on exactly how many people have been housed. If the numbers prove that’s it’s working, “we should talk about it,” she said.
Maple Ridge resident Matt Kelso says if there’s going to be a permanent shelter, the planning and discussion of a new shelter should have started last year.
Read, though, says she wants to see the city maintain the progress it has made.
“We have to stay in front of the numbers. That’s critical.”
She believes the city should have a limited number of shelter beds, with a “very hard target” of how many days a person can stay in a shelter without being connected to housing.
“Now, it’s about really working with B.C. Housing to change the way that we use resources to deal with homelessness,” she said.
Last year, the city also asked B.C. Housing to cut the $1 million year it gives to the Salvation Army Caring Places’ emergency shelter, saying that model no longer worked.
However, the province has recently confirmed its support for the Salvation Army shelter.
“Definitely, it is the province that puts the resources into the Salvation Army, but at the end of the day we’re the city that it’s located in,” she said, adding that taxpayers have spent significant resources on the issue, and the local council should have a voice.
“We got 77 people housed. Some of those people were actually in and out of that shelter for a long period of time,” said Read.
“The shelter model is not working as it needs to, and its masking the size of the problem in this region.”
She said the city must have a limited number of shelter beds.
“Our message remains the same: we need to be a community with less shelter beds and a greater commitment to getting people housed when they land on the street.”